April 15th 2019

On April 15, 2005, NASA launched a spacecraft on a mission to rendezvous with a small communications satellite. The launch went according to plan, but the mission ended abruptly when the spacecraft collided with the satellite. 

The mission was known as DART, which is short for Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology. Its objective was to demonstrate that a fully automated and uncrewed spacecraft could rendezvous with another spacecraft in orbit. But the two spacecraft were not supposed to make contact. 

When DART approached its target, it ran out of fuel and inadvertently bumped into it. Investigators determined that DART’s thrusters had been firing excessively because of a problem with its navigation system. It was a soft collision, and neither of the spacecraft were noticeably damaged.  

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

April 12th 2019

Yuri’s Night is an international celebration held every April 12 to commemorate milestones in space exploration. Yuri’s Night is named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spaceship on April 12, 1961. The launch of STS-1, the first Space Shuttle mission, is also honored, as it was launched 20 years to the day of Vostok 1 on April 12, 1981. In 2011, Yuri’s Night was celebrated at over 567 events in 75 countries on 7 continents.

Yuri’s Night is often called the “World Space Party”.

The goal of Yuri’s Night is to increase public interest in space exploration and to inspire a new generation of explorers. Driven by space-inspired artistic expression and culminating in a worldwide network of annual celebrations and educational events, Yuri’s Night creates a global community of young people committed to shaping the future of space exploration while developing responsible leaders and innovators with a global perspective. These global events are a showcase for elements of culture that embrace space including music, dance, fashion, and art.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri%27s_Night

April 1st 2019

NASA’s Curiosity rover mission recently determined that background levels of methane in Mars’ atmosphere cycle seasonally, peaking in the northern summer. These finds have intrigued astrobiologists, because methane is a possible biosignature. The vast majority of methane in Earth’s air is pumped out by microbes and other living creatures.

Some answers may soon be on the horizon, because that June 2013 detection has just been firmed up. Europe’s Mars Express orbiter noted the spike as well from that spacecraft’s perch high above the Red Planet, a new study reports.

Source: https://www.space.com/mars-methane-plume-confirmed-location.html


25th March 2019

Construction began on Columbia in 1975 at Rockwell International’s (formerly North American Aviation/North American Rockwell) principal assembly facility in Palmdale, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. Columbia was named after the American sloopColumbia Rediviva which, from 1787 to 1793, under the command of Captain Robert Gray, explored the US Pacific Northwest and became the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe. It is also named after the Command Module of Apollo 11, the first manned landing on another celestial body.Columbia was also the female symbol of the United States. After construction, the orbiter arrived at Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 1979, to prepare for its first launch. Columbia was originally scheduled to lift off in late 1979, however the launch date was delayed by problems with both the Space Shuttle main engine (SSME), as well as the thermal protection system (TPS).[ On March 19, 1981, during preparations for a ground test, workers were asphyxiated while working in Columbia’s nitrogen-purged aft engine compartment, resulting in (variously reported) two or three fatalities.[

The first flight of Columbia (STS-1) was commanded by John Young, a veteran from the Gemini and Apollo programs who was the ninth person to walk on the Moon in 1972, and piloted by Robert Crippen, a rookie astronaut originally selected to fly on the military’s Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) spacecraft, but transferred to NASA after its cancellation, and served as a support crew member for the Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions.

Columbia spent 610 days in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF), another 35 days in the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and 105 days on Pad 39A before finally lifting off.[ Columbia was successfully launched on April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight (Vostok 1), and returned on April 14, 1981, after orbiting the Earth 36 times, landing on the dry lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Columbia then undertook three further research missions to test its technical characteristics and performance. Its first operational mission, with a four-man crew, was STS-5, which launched on November 11, 1982. At this point Columbia was joined by Challenger, which flew the next three shuttle missions, while Columbia underwent modifications for the first Spacelab mission.

In 1983, Columbia, under the command of John Young on what was his sixth spaceflight, undertook its second operational mission (STS-9), in which the Spacelab science laboratory and a six-person crew was carried, including the first non-American astronaut on a space shuttle, Ulf Merbold. After the flight, Columbia spent 18 months at the Rockwell Palmdale facility beginning in January 1984, undergoing modifications that removed the Orbiter Flight Test hardware and bringing it up to similar specifications as those of its sister orbiters. At that time the shuttle fleet was expanded to include Discovery and Atlantis.

Columbia returned to space on January 12, 1986, with the launch of STS-61-C. The mission’s crew included Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz, as well as the first sitting member of the House of Representatives to venture into space, Bill Nelson.

The next shuttle mission, STS-51-L, was undertaken by Challenger. It was launched on January 28, 1986, ten days after STS-61-C had landed, and ended in disaster 73 seconds after launch. In the aftermath NASA’s shuttle timetable was disrupted, and Columbia was not flown again until 1989 (on STS-28), after which it resumed normal service as part of the shuttle fleet.

STS-93, launched on July 23, 1999, was the first U.S. space mission with a female commander, Lt. Col. Eileen Collins. This mission deployed the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

Columbia’s final successful mission was STS-109, the fourth servicing mission for the Hubble Space Telescope. Its next mission, STS-107, culminated in the orbiter’s loss when it disintegrated during reentry, killing all seven of its crew.

Consequently, President George W. Bush decided to retire the Shuttle orbiter fleet by 2010 in favor of the Constellation program and its manned Orion spacecraft. The Constellation program was later cancelled with the NASA Authorization Act of 2010 signed by President Barack Obama on October 11.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia

March 18th 2019

On March 18, 1980, a Soviet rocket exploded on the launchpad and killed 48 people. 

The Vostok-2M rocket was about to launch a new spy satellite called Tselina-D. Military technicians were working to fuel the rocket on the launchpad at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, a top-secret spaceport a few hundred miles north of Moscow. 

It wasn’t until three years after the explosion happened that the Soviets admitted that this secret spaceport existed. They continued to keep the deadly explosion a secret until 1989. State officials blamed the explosion on human error. But a later investigation determined the cause to be a design flaw with the rocket.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

11th March 2019

Pioneer 5 (1960 Alpha 1) was a spin-stabilized space probe used to investigate interplanetary space between the orbits of earth and Venus. The spacecraft measured magnetic field phenomena, solar flare particles, and ionization in the interplanetary region. The digital data were transmitted at 1, 8, and 64 bps, depending on the distance of the spacecraft from the earth and the size of the receiving antenna. Weight limitations on the solar cells prevented continuous operation of the telemetry transmitters. About four operations of 25-min duration were scheduled per day with occasional increases during times of special interest. A total of 138.9 h of operation was completed, and over 3 million binary bits of data were received. The major portion of the data was received at the Manchester and Hawaii tracking stations because their antennas provided grid reception. Pioneer 5 performed normally until April 30, 1960, after which telemetry transmission became too infrequent for any significant addition to the data. The spacecraft established a communications link with the earth from a record distance of 22.5 million miles on June 26, 1960, which was the last day of transmission.

Source: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1960-001A

March 4th 2019

On March 4th, 1979, NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft took the first photos of rings around Jupiter. This was the first time anyone had seen Jupiter’s rings.

Because Jupiter’s rings are so thin and faint, it’s extremely difficult to see them from Earth with ground-based telescopes. Even for a spacecraft out near Jupiter, the rings are essentially invisible unless the cameras look at them edge-on or from an angle where sunlight shines directly through them.

Since Voyager 1 first saw the rings, other space missions like Juno and Galileo have continued to study them. Scientists believe that the rings formed by comets colliding with Jupiter’s moons and kicking dust into the planet’s orbit.

Source: https://www.space.com/39251-on-this-day-in-space.html

25th February 2019

Expedition 59 is the 59th Expedition to the International Space Station, scheduled to start on 28 February 2019 with the arrival of the Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft carrying Aleksey Ovchinin, Nick Hague and Christina Koch. The three will subsequently transfer to the Expedition 60 crew, with Ovchinin as commander, after the undocking of the Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft, scheduled for July 2019.

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expedition_59

February 18th 2019

Mariner 6 was launched on February 24th 1969 and Mariner 7 on March 27 1969. Mariner 6 and 7 were the second pair of Mars missions in NASA’s Mariner series of solar system exploration in the 1960s and early 1970s. As with the other Mariners, each launched on an Atlas rocket with either an Agena or Centaur upper-stage booster, and weighed less than half a ton (without onboard rocket propellant).

In 1969, Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 completed the first dual mission to Mars, flying by over the equator and south polar regions and analyzing the Martian atmosphere and surface with remote sensors, as well as recording and relaying hundreds of pictures. By chance, both flew over cratered regions and missed both the giant northern volcanoes and the equatorial grand canyon that was discovered later. Their approach pictures did, however, show that the dark features on the surface long seen from Earth were not canals, as once interpreted in the 1800s.

Source: https://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/missions/past/mariner67/

February 11th 2019

On the evenings surrounding Tuesday, February 12, Mars’ faster eastward orbital motion will carry it closely past Uranus, which will be more than 12 times farther away from Earth. Their smallest separation of only 1 degree (a finger’s width) will happen on Tuesday evening, when the red and blue planets will appear together in the eyepiece of a backyard telescope at low magnification. While much brighter Mars will be north (to the upper right) of Uranus, your telescope might flip the view. (Use the nearby moon to test how your telescope alters the view.)

Source: https://www.space.com/16149-night-sky.html